back to article Ten ancestors of the netbook

Come 2015, we’re told, the netbook will be dead and gone, out-evolved by the more fleet of foot, more desirable media tablet. We shouldn’t mourn the netbook’s passing, though. It has had, in one form or another, a good innings. While some folk may look back to the category’s debut in 2007 with the launch of Asus’ Eee PC 701 - …


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  1. Volker Hett

    The HP 95LX helped me through my economy exams and the 41CX through statistics :)

    1. BillG

      I grabbed a 200LX the first year it came out. It was an invaluable contact manager. I used it to keep track of customers, clients, employees. somebody called, with a few keystrokes I know who they were and what business I was doing with them.

      Kept my frequent flyer numbers handy with specific hints for each airline for getting a valuable upgrade. Kept product pricing charts, and even had a margin calculator. In a non-computer age it gave me a tremendous advantage over my competition.

      Today my trusty 200LX sits, retired, at the corner of my desk, forever charging, forever charging...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Standards Dropping

    Article mentions the Eee 701 and "that picture" isn't included? .... heads should roll!

    1. FartingHippo

      Re: Standards Dropping

      Quite right. Here a link for other disappointed commentards.

      "that picture"

    2. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Standards Dropping

      Oh well of you insist...

    3. Volker Hett

      Re: Standards Dropping

      A Lego reenactment at least!

      Beer, because ...

    4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      She is on page 6

      Microsoft may have bloated the netbook to its death throws, but the small cheap computer is back:$200/

      Intel have worked out that they need to compete with ARM, and they have to drop their prices to do it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        a bog standard tablet

        with blue tooth keyboard would also fit the bill for a cheap (in every sense of the word) netbook.

    5. xperroni
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

      I don't know if I ever noticed it before, but that pic seems so Photoshop'ed it's a bit disturbing. It looks as if the beach, the girl, and even the computer and the camera were all taken from different pictures, and then reassembled as one (quite unbelievable, even discounting the stitch-together feeling) scene.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

        "that pic seems so Photoshop'ed it's a bit disturbing. It looks as if the beach, the girl, and even the computer and the camera were all taken from different pictures, and then reassembled as one"

        I'm not seeing that. To me (with thousands of photos under my belt since getting into digital photography once it because economical enough around 2004)... it looks natural enough as a back-lit photo with "fill-in flash" lighting up what would otherwise be in shadow.

        1. xperroni

          Re: Photoshop'ing like a bat out of Hell (was: Standards Dropping)

          To me (...) it looks natural enough as a back-lit photo with "fill-in flash" lighting up what would otherwise be in shadow.

          I'll take your word for it, but still I can't avoid the feeling.

    6. RAMChYLD

      Re: Standards Dropping

      look again ;)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Zenith Minisport

    I had one of these around 1990. A4 sized and it used 2" floppies (yes, really, 2" floppies). I still have the floppies somewhere here.

    1. deshepherd

      Re: Zenith Minisport

      Remember those ... seem to recall they were in the category of things that I saw in the Morgan Computers adverts at a price that seemed a bargain for what they were at the time (probably £199) but sadly at that time a bit above my "frivolous spending" level so never got one!

    2. Elmer Phud

      Re: Zenith Minisport

      That reminds me -- my current lappy bag used to be for an ancient Zenith 'laptop' (with a huge 'horseshoe' battery). Its older function was a network diagnostics toolbox.

      None of yer modern x86 rubbish - full-blown XT.

      Fine for mail but ASCII porn only.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Zenith Minisport

        I have one of those, too. My dad had a ZDS laptop (which died in the last 2 years) but I have the bag and it fits modern netbooks quite well.

      2. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Re: Zenith Minisport

        I still have and use an old Zenith Z-Noteflex. I've had the thing for around 15 years, and it was used when I got it.

        The battery is toast, but the hard drive and screen are still working. I installed Linux on it in 2000, don't even remember which distro. I keep it around because it has a serial port so it's useful when I need to go into wiring closets to connect directly to switches. Hard to find affordable, modern laptops with a serial port, and I'm forever losing USB-Serial adapters. So the Zenith stays in my office.

    3. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Zenith Minisport

      Ah, yes. I had one of those waaay back when I was going to school to learn my trade. It was awesome for taking notes on, and playing games behind the instructor's back when I was bored.

      Alas, mine died a very untimely accidental death from screen breakage.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think the lack of a Windows option put people off the original Eee as much as the appalling choice of Linux distribution did. Xandros was awful, and Asus would have been better off partnering with someone like Canonical or RedHat in order to include a decent Linux install. As for hardware support, I never had a problem with Linux on a variety of netbooks (Asus, Dell and Samsung). The wireless chipset on the original Eee wasn't supported on other Unix-like operating systems at first though.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      @Chris Wareham

      Up vote for mention Xandros. Xandros was indeed the worst choice of all, such a pity. My families problems with two machines have been with the keyborads, especially the Asus one. Bad luck perhaps.

    2. Tim Walker


      As I wrote later in this thread, I ditched the Eee's Xandros within weeks of acquiring my 701, for one simple reason: it wasn't updated. The software versions in the repositories were ancient even by 2009, and were clearly going to remain so, so I decided to jump to another Linux as soon as I picked up a USB CD drive.

      Suffice it to say: Eeebuntu until mid-2011 (when it became obvious that distro had been abandoned too), and after that, Arch Linux (to date). The Arch wiki even has a big page on installing on a 701:

      If you still own an Eee 701 and fancy giving it a new lease of life: roll up your sleeves and give Arch a spin (if that's not a crazy mix of metaphors)...

    3. mickey mouse the fith

      "I don't think the lack of a Windows option put people off the original Eee as much as the appalling choice of Linux distribution did"

      I bet it wasnt as bad as the appalling distro (Linpus) the Acer aspire one ssd version came with.

      I recall hitting the `update` button in options and the thing rebooting first to a command prompt, then just hanging on boot, never to work again.

      The ssd had such awful write performance that most os`s i tried were a juddery, unreliable, pretty unusable experiences.

      If it had a decent ssd, it could run windows 7 quite happily, but it didnt, and it couldnt. Why on earth they hobbled a very capable little machine with such a performance sapping drive il never know.

      I put meego on it in the end, which ran like a dream, in fact it still does, pity they discontinued it really.

      1. David Hicks
        Thumb Up

        "I bet it wasnt as bad as the appalling distro (Linpus) the Acer aspire one ssd version came with.

        I recall hitting the `update` button in options and the thing rebooting first to a command prompt, then just hanging on boot, never to work again."

        Wowsers. OK maybe not *that* bad but -

        Xandros on my eee 901 refused to update itself after the first time due to there being no space, which was because the debs from previous updates were still there and it didn't know how to clear them (epic facepalm). Also there was no easy way to alter the desktop/menu content and by the time the 901 came out they had removed the 'advanced' (kde) desktop mode. It also killed ipods. A friend attached his to charge it, and some or other media player started up, maybe amarok, scanned the device and then overwrote all the indexes in an incompatible format, resulting in an ipod that claimed at the same time that it was full and had nothing on it!

        I ditched Xandros ASAP. It was a pretty good hackintosh for a while, then became a really good little debian machine, and it still is vaguely useful though I have now replaced nearly all the parts.

  5. Bob H

    I loved playing with my fathers Atari Portfolio when we were travelling abroad.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Is that a euphemism? If not, it should be.

  6. Snow Hill Island

    Too long lived... for the manufacturers

    Bought an eee 4G at Christmas after it's first release. Had Xandros on it, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Puppy, then Gentoo. I'd still be using it now if I hadn't got someone else's eee 900 when they bought a newer Samsung netbook, but that eee 900 is my main computer for home use. At work I've got access to machines with 16 cores, zippy SSDs and 128GB memory, but I don't need that at home.

    Saying that, I would have bought an OLPC XO instead of the eee, if you didn't have to have a US mailing address to use "buy one give one" at the time. I'd still buy one or maybe two now, if they were generally available to the public. C'mon OLPC, how about it?


    1. James 51

      Re: Too long lived... for the manufacturers

      Agreed. My AA1 lasted over 3 1/2 years (it took my boy bashing away and drooling over the keyboard to kill some of the keys). That's longer than any of my wife's full price laptops.

      1. Passing Through

        Re: Too long lived... for the manufacturers

        Using my Aspire1 right now. ubuntu 13.04, although the battery is getting poor.

        my daughters asus 900 took a real hammering being dropped several times while running and was only killed by I think being stood on, which cracked the screen, may yet live again though.

        we have an ipad in the house, several desktops and a windows7 laptop, the ipad is never used for homework as it won't drive a printer, usually its an aspire that's used, sometimes the fullsize laptop.

  7. jake Silver badge

    I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

    ... except the "Apple eMate 300" (did anyone actually see one in the wild?) ... all were craptastic.

    1. Dave 126

      Re: I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

      No, nobody saw an eMate 'in the wild'. I did see one in my school though, a teacher was assessing whether it would be of any use to him... he decided that it wasn't.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm pretty certain I fiddled about with all of them ...

      My high school jumped on the eMate bandwagon, and bought a couple "carts" of them. Literally a wheeled cart cum charging station for some thirty or so eMates. I remember using one once or twice, but only as a novelty. (Probably the school trying to justify the cost.) We already had proper computers in the classrooms, and they wouldn't let us take the eMates home.

    3. Stoneshop


      I doubt you ever used a 5MX for real work. That is, stick it in your pocket with the serial cable, climb up the stairs and ladders into the bowels of a production plant, and use it to reconfigure the sodding bit of misbehaving networking hardware with its amnesiac firmware.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Stoneshop (was: Re: Craptastic?)

        In 1985 (nearly a decade and a half before your 5MX), I used ComDesign statmuxes and pre-strung serial cables, sometimes/often with Anderson-Jacobson dial-back modem-pairs, to reconfigure sodding bits of misbehaving hardware both on-campus and all over the world. From the Sun Workstation on my desk in my clean, cool office. I still do, as a matter of fact, on my personal distributed network. The Sun is now an aging HP laptop running Slackware, but little else has changed.

      2. Dave 15

        Re: Craptastic?

        There were other things about the series 5 (and its variant the 5mx)...

        It worked for more than a couple of hours on a couple of AA batteries you could pick up almost anywhere

        It didn't require you to lug a power supply the size of a car around and find the right sort of mains outlet after a couple of hours (unlike the current fondle slabs)

        It had keyboard AND touch screen so you could point, select and type - better than the current fondle slabs.

        It folded so the keyboard and screen were protected so while in your pocket it didn't end up a scratched up piece of shit (like the current fondle slabs).

        In fact, all told, it was a damned site better device than anything you can buy today. What a pity it wasn't updated to a series 5 colourMX and perhaps it could have acquired wireless modem ... oh it sort of did as a nokia communicator - not quite as good a piece of design but better than the junk available today.

  8. James 51

    I remember when the psion netbook came out. I really wanted one but my student loan wouldn't cover it. Did borrow my dad's 5mx though. Typed up a large amount of coursework on that.

    "Only its keyboard gave the netbook an edge." But what an edge that is. Most people might be happy with a tablet but they aren't a proper replacement for a netbook. Even pairing with a bluetooth keyboard, the software a tablets are running at the moment isn't nearly ready to compete with them.

    1. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

      Well I can actually do

      proper work on a tablet even without a physical keyboard. But then all I really need is vim, ssh and remote desktop and I have all of that and more.

      I have plain vim and ssh via kbox terminal but one could use zshaolin(no connectbot is awful). I have touchvim if I really want to and there's a very very very very excelent remote desktop app accesstogo. Yes I can even edit documents, spreadsheets and view pdfs using the preinstalled polaris office. But frankly I rarely need them.

      Yes still on the lookout for a keyboard for it. Can't really decide on one.

      1. AceRimmer

        Re: Well I can actually do

        microsoft have a keyboard which even comes with a stand

  9. Slik Fandango


    I had several Psions - 3, 3a and 5mx - loved them.

    Ran ACT single user better than my office PC at the time - easier to merge multi user data in ACT as well.

    Think I still have one of them around somewhere - along with my Apple Message Pad 120...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Psion...

      I always lusted after the Psions, but I couldn't justify one for more than play, and they never quite made it down to "what the hell"gadget prices.

  10. aahjnnot

    Less is more

    The thing that killed the netbook was creeping bloat. The original EeePCs weren't intended as a substitute for a computer: they were a cheap, light, small, instantly-available alternative when you didn't want the bulk and expense of your full laptop.

    But slowly bloat set in as cheapskates saw netbooks as a cheap-and-nasty alternative to a proper laptop. The 9" panel grew to bulky, heavy 11" even though the screen resolution didn't improve. Lightweight Linux gave way to Windows, which was a bad joke when the necessary antivirus and heavyweight desktop software was added. The tiny, light, latency-free solid state storage gave way to sloooow hard drives that removed the Eee's instant-on pleasure. All these things pumped up the price to £50 or so less than a proper laptop.

    The success of the original Eee and of tablets shows that users will accept compromises for a device that's genuinely cheap and portable. The demise of the netbook shows that the cumulative effect of ill-considered incremental improvements can destroy the soul of a device to the point where it becomes worthless.

    Sometimes less is more.

    1. xslogic

      Re: Less is more

      Yeah - a lot of people seemed to want a small device that would fit in their pocket with a large screen, a full sized keyboard and the processing power to fully simulate a universe while costing less than a loaf of bread.

      Just replacing my Eee 901's keyboard for the second time.

    2. serendipity

      Re: Less is more

      Err Not necessarily.

      I had the misfortune to be given one of the early Acer tiny screen netbooks recently. What a laughable piece of junk compared to my 11" Samsung NC10. My NC10 might be running XP and have a 'slow' (but capacious) disk drive but its such a capable machine even to this day. On a trip, I once loaded Visual Studio and it handled that pretty well. And build quality is great, and after 3 years I still get 4hrs + battery life.

      I think that the problem with Netbooks is that the vociferous naysayers were exposed to the early tiny screen Linux models and found them wanting and have slagged off Netbooks ever since. If they'd tried the much better later models they'd have a different opinion. But then again, the anti-MS brigade never got over the fact that most people wanted to ditch Linux and have something that could run Windows. (And I'm not anti Linux, I use it every day, I'm just OS agnostic - I use whatever is best for the job in hand.)

      Given the choice between one of the later Win 7 based Samsung, Acer, Dell etc dual core netbooks and one of the earlier 7" or 9" early Linux models, I'd have the dual core machine every time.

      Sometimes more is more

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Less is more

      True: the original 701 was good - small, light, did what it was designed to do - then grew fatter and sillier.

      Also, on another point, "As one of the world’s biggest calculator companies, Hewlett-Packard "? I thought they were one of the world's biggest printer companies ?

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Less is more @AC

        At the time, if you wanted a serious calculator that would work for years, HP was your best bet. Their calculators were the Rolls-Royce of calculators.

        Also at the time, HP were a major computer manufacturer as well as a medical and test equipment manufacturer (which is where they started). Printers were a bit of a late addition to their product set.

        I agree about the EeePC 701, and mine is still working and in use running Ubuntu.

        1. Hideki

          Re: Less is more @AC

          HP weren't the only company to make good calculators...

          My Casio FX730P pocket computer has been running for 25-30 years and will probably continue to do so for years to come. Simple design with a built in basic so what it doesn't do now it can be programmed to do, no idea why Casio stopped making those with the Z-1 GR...

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. jason 7

      Re: Less is more

      I might just point out here before we all get too misty eyed that those little SSDs in those netbooks were awful.

      I have seen cheap USB sticks deliver better data speeds.

    6. Kevin 6

      Re: Less is more

      Well as for the windows I will agree if you bought a netbook with windows on it yes it ran like crap due to all the crappy trial ware the companies put on them. That and that absolutely terrible bloated program that can make quad core pc's behave like 486's named iTunes killed windows performance. Everyone I ever knew that claimed their windows netbook was too slow I would disable symantec (we fuck up the pc more then a virus) anti-virus, and iTunes, and they would be like WHOA YOU MUST HAVE UPGRADED MY NETBOOK ITS SO MUCH FASTER...

      But then again disabling those 2 infernal pieces of software services on any windows PC will free up like 40-60% of its resources though.

      Now I have one of the 1st netbooks dell made laying around here with windows XP installed, and honestly I've never noticed any issues with it running or the speed of it. Only issue the dell has (and it seemed chronic) was the damn hard drive's wire comes loose requiring 20 something screws to get to so the cable can be pushed back in. Actually the cable issue is how I got it for nothing as its original owner was so fed up with having to push the cable in 2 times a week they were going to just throw it out.

      They ended up buying a normal laptop as by this point the netbook prices were almost the same as the low end laptop prices that eclipsed them greatly.

  11. MattLoren

    Had the Atari, the Psion 3, the Libretto and the first EEE PC 701.

    This category is completely misunderstood by manufacturers.

    I want an ultraportable machine that I can use anywhere, is relatively solidly built (no stupid Ultrabook breakability) and I'll pay a premium to get a proper usable machine. I don't care about resolution (up to a point) and I don't care about the thing looking poncey. Bigger screens? I've got a 40" monitor that I'll plug in to the thing if I want a big screen, this is for working, not watching rubbish or playing games on.

    God knows why the PC companies haven't made netbooks with decent specs. Why can't I have 8gb of Ram and a decent chip? I'll pay for it.

    The closest I've seen is the HP DM1, which when you put an SSD and 8Gb of Ram in it, is a great little machine.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Because Microsoft, fearful for canabilising their OS sales on laptops, mandated 1 Gb Ram and 1024x600 limit on the machines to be allowed to run the cheap / low power versions of the OS.

    2. Stoneshop


      I have two; one's a 233MHz, the other is 166MHz (I think). Equipped with an 8GB SSD and maxed-out memory the 233 one was the perfect companion for my GF's two-week trip to New Zealand some years ago: robust, compact (way smaller than even a Thinkpad X) and not very attractive.

      1. Wize

        Re: Libretto

        I like my Libretto. Its not had many air miles of late, but always handy when you want something with full USB or you want VGA out. Its keyboard isn't the best one in the world but a whole lot better than typing on a touchscreen. And it boots fast as a DVD player, bypassing Windows.

  12. Simon 4

    GCSE Courseworks on Psion Series 3

    I used my Psion Series 3 to take notes in class and write my GCSE coursework on the move.

    No-one in my English class resented me being the tosser with the pocket computer because I flogged all of them copies of my notes on Great Expectations, Shakespeare etc.

    I was able to work more efficiently on my Series 3 than I can on my iPad.

  13. SonofRojBlake

    Pah to fondleslabs

    "Only its keyboard gave the netbook an edge"

    Yeah - that and the fact that you can do actual, y'know, WORK on it, as opposed to play Angry Birds, because it'll run proper programs, albeit at a rather leisurely pace a lot of the time.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alive and Well

    Netbooks aren't doomed. They are alive and well and called Chromebooks now.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Asus Eee lady on the beach? Pity.

    As that's about all we'll remember about that machine in the future.

  16. WiganGeek


    DIP actually did hang around for a while longer - the Sharp PC3000 pocket DOS machine was actually the follow-on from the Portfolio, licensed to Sharp for production.

    1. AceRimmer1980

      Re: DIP

      I had a Sharp PC3100, very similar to the Poqet, and it was brilliant. You could underclock the CPU down to 1mhz, to use it as an ebook reader, and the batteries would last for ages. The particular LCD technology used didn't need a backlight. People even managed to shoehorn Windows 3.0 onto it!

      <misty eyed>Turbo C 2.0, LIST.COM, Borland Sidekick..

      I guess the spiritual successor would be something like the Vaio P-Series, and as the trend for content consumers is PC->touch device, we may never see their like again, as the market for content producers is just too small.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missed the Vaio C1 series

    The Sony Vaio C1 series preceded the EEE. I had a C1VN first of all, screen on the small side, bit slow but something I could take anywhere. After that I had (if I remember the model correctly) a C1MVP. A bit faster, higher res screen, but still running the Crusoe chip. Installing Linux was interesting.

    I still have an HP 200LX on the desk in front of me, which sadly now spends most of its life as a graphing calculator. But it's a proper MS-DOS computer that runs off two AA batteries, so how could I possibly get rid of it?

  18. phy445

    Z88 anyone?

    Surely Uncle Clive's Z88 should be on this list?

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Z88 anyone?

      More a proto-tablet, I'd say, than a ur-netbook, which is why it's not included here. Or the Amstrad NC100, for the same reason.

      However, the Amstrad NC200, a half-clamshell might be considered an early pre-netbook.

  19. Stacy

    Libretto :)

    I saw the Libretto in a few shops and loved it instantly. Compact, but also a real machine. It's just a shame I was a lowly student at the time and so I never had the money to get one!

    I wonder if it's rose coloured glasses looking back and I would have been disappointed had I managed to get hold of one?

    1. nichomach
      Thumb Up

      Re: Libretto :)

      You wouldn't have been; I worked at a place where we had a pool one that we used for network diags and taking off to remote sites. IIRC, ours was something a P233MMX, and we had to install a 3Com CardBus ethernet card to hook it up to the network. It was a little gem to use, very capable, easy to hook up to monitors, mice, keyboards and so forth, so we could bob over to a site with something less bulky than a paperback, and have a decently powerful fully-featured PC when we got there. I still kind of miss it *sniff*.

  20. a_mu

    oh yes

    Netbooks are just right for me.

    most of what I need is text based, so by the time yo put a keyboard on a screen of a 'pad' then you are down to a very small screen.

    yes, I have a laptop, but its too big and power hungry to do a full flight across the pond,

    yes I have a pad, used for games and tv / internet film watching,

    yes I have smart phone, lots of apps,

    but typing / general most things,

    , give us the key board of the netbook,

    it does everything in a small package that just works

    1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      Re: oh yes

      I've had an eeepc 701, then an aspire one 110, which I still use. I also have a 721, which also, I still use. It's the last of my netbooks though.

      Why? Because it's replacement, the aspire one 722, dispite being only slightly larger, isn't offically a netbook.

      They put a 1366x768 screen in it. The 721 runs windows 7 starter or linux, the 722 came with 7 home premium, as the screen is too high res!.

      It still fits into my handbag with it's PSU with out noticing though.

  21. blcollier

    Dell Mini 9

    Not specifically the focus of this article, but I owned one of these machines and utterly loved it. The only flaw with it really was the SSD writes were quite laggy now and then, and replacements were quite expensive... Brilliant little machine.

    Ended up getting rid of it because I wanted a bigger screen and a less cramped keyboard.

    1. Minophis

      Re: Dell Mini 9

      I still have mine and use it on a regular basis.

  22. ByeLaw101

    Psion Series 5

    I know you mention the Psion Series 5 in the Series 3 paragraph, but the Series 5 was the one with the ground breaking foldout keyboard and great display, you could almost touch type on that thing! The Series 3 was a toy version of the 5!

    Also, were is the Z88?

    Great article though :)

    1. Norman Hartnell
      Thumb Up

      Re: Psion Series 5

      The 5mx was the pods. The hinge is broken on my Series 3 but it's still limping on as my alarm clock.

    2. G R Goslin

      Re: Psion Series 5

      I introduced the Psion 3 into the company I worked for, and for my pains got to look after the customer base. My impression of the Psion 5 was that it was a step back from the 3c. it had a number of serious weaknesses. The hinge mechanism was weak and broke easily. It was physically bulkier. But the main drawback was the battery life. The Psion three went on and on, but the quiescent current drawn by the 5 meant that two weeks of non use, say your annual holiday, and you'd come back to a dead machine and all your files gone. Many a moaning customer came asking, "How do I get my files back?". I never bought the 5, but skipped straight onto the netBook, which still sees almost daily use.

  23. T.Omoto

    I booted my Jornada 820 a few months back.

    Booted perfectly, holds a 6-8 hour battery life, and connects to my wireless with a PCMIA wifi card, once I restored the backup from a recent 2Gb(!) CF card - well, almost, the concept of WPA is a mystery to the drivers. The only thing I really missed back then was a headphone jack, as it was one of the very first portable devices with enough grunt and storage to churn MP3 audio. Well, and that Microsoft could have provided a complete office solution, instead of strategically limited versions of Word/Excel/Powerpoint.

  24. Mint Sauce

    JVC MiniNote

    My JVC MiniNote is still going reasonably well. The internal WIFI seems to have stopped working but I still use it with a dongle. Very handy for traveling.

    It is more of a 'tiny laptop' than a netbook though, with an eyewatering RRP to match. I got mine in a sale and the VAT man kindly knocked 17.5% off too :)

    I tried various linux distros on it a few years ago without much success, might be time to have another go...

  25. tapanit

    How about HP110 from 1984? Cf.

    Of course it's a arguable whether it is "rather smaller than a laptop" - it was certainly heavier than many modern laptops (mainly due to huge battery), but it was tiny by the standards of 1980s.

  26. John Arthur
    Thumb Up

    Thanks adding for THAT picture

    I don't know how many times I have seen that picture over the years but today was the first time that it struck me that the lady could not possibly be able to view the screen from that angle.

  27. Dave 126

    > Only its keyboard gave the netbook an edge.

    Well, the better support for extra storage and peripherals was handy too. I've used one as a data logger for a thermometer when developing a product, a mate uses his to stream audio from an external HDD...

  28. toughluck
    Thumb Down

    I can see nobody mentioned Bicom yet

    It launched in 1993. I remember reading the review, but frankly, there's scant info on the Internet and it's hard to find the information.

    Nevertheless, I did find information on it. There were two models: 240i and 260i, differing in HDD capacity (40 and 60 MB, which was a lot for a notebook back then). Specifications:

    - Am286LX at 16 MHz (1.5 µm node)

    - 2 MB RAM

    - Dimensions: 223×161×31 mm (smaller than original EeePC!)

    - Weight: 1 kg (which is less than some EeePC models, at almost 1.5 kg)

    - 7.5" monochrome displays (640×400 resolution, line-doubled CGA)

    - Battery life: 3-4 hours on 5 AA batteries (!), you could use rechargeables (Ni-Cd at the time).

    - Price: I can't remember now, but for what it did, it was cheaper than cheapest regular notebooks, at some $300-400.

    It's hard not to draw parallels between then and now. The subnotebook was based on technology that was two generations behind the mainstream (486, color displays), which is about where netbooks are in relation to notebooks.

    Obviously, technology has progressed since then, but in 15 years between this and the original EeePC, what did we get in return? Frankly, not much! Larger hard drives, color displays (sometimes they are even larger), more memory. But feature bloat caused the netbooks to not perform better than their old rivals. If you used 700 mAh Ni-Cd rechargeables with the Bicom, you got 3 hours battery life. With 2700 mAh NiMH rechargeables, you would get 12 hours -- compare that to 3 hours on an EeePC with batteries rated at 5600 mAh with higher voltage. Displays obviously draw the most energy, but 15 years of progress should have brought them at least to parity. If anything, turning off backlight (or the display altogether, and running on an external monitor), should allow the netbook to work considerably longer, but it doesn't.

    Is it unreasonable to expect that you should be able to get a 9-inch notebook running a shrunk CPU two generations old (hey, it would be the original Nehalem now) -- not downclocked, mind you, with an SSD, weighing in at less than 0.5 kg, with dimensions of an A5 sheet of paper and at most 5 mm thick?

  29. 1Rafayal

    Psion Series 5

    Just had to say that.

    I actually still use one from time to time, for no other reason but to marvel at it.

    I think the Series 5/MX were perhaps the archetypal ancestor to all modern netbooks, smartphones and tablets.

    1. Dave 15

      Re: Psion Series 5

      Quite literally in some ways... all of the Symbian devices - so right up to the Nokia 808 pureview, but including phones from SonyEricsson (UIQ UI rather than S60 UI) and many other devices in Japan and elsewhere ran Symbian, which was Epoc32, the OS in the 5MX (and the 5). Indeed look under the covers and you'll still find 'EPOC' libraries and files in the smartphones.

      And contrary to the BBC's view that the iPhone was the first smartphone, the Symbian ones had been selling in millions and had about a 10 year headstart. When Nokias idiot CEO classed them as a burning platform they had a higher market share than the current Apple one :)

      1. Philip Lewis

        Re: Psion Series 5

        "Nokias idiot CEO classed them as a burning platform they had a higher market share than the current Apple one "

        They had a higher market share than EVERYONE ELSE put together!

  30. krakead

    I wrote my dissertation on a Portfolio - the fun part was trying to get it printed!

    I'm obsessed with miniaturised/portable computing and had many of these over the years. I've even started buying them again on ebay and am proud/sad* to admit that I have a display case full of pocket computers going back the old Sharp PC-1211. My Psion 5mx still goes everywhere with me.

    * - delete as applicable

    1. 1Rafayal

      You know, I am kind of the same?

      I love the old school mini machines/palmtops.

      Especially the Psion inspired devices, the keyboard design on the series 5 is a piece of engineering genius IMHO

      1. Nick_Healey

        oooh but if only...

        when the S5 keyboard comes forwards, the sides should've come with it too, so that the front wasn't waving in mid-air, so typing on your lap didn't regularly tip the machine up a little... details, details...

  31. Justin Stringfellow

    what about IBM PC110

    Rare as hen's teeth, but a true tiny PC compatible.

    IMO half of the stuff on this list are ancestors of modern mobile phones, not netbooks.

  32. Tim Walker

    Eee 701SD and what came before

    I suppose owning two Psions (3c and 5mx) in the late-90s, prepared me for the refurbished Eee 701SD I picked up in 2009 for barely more than £100.

    It's still going strong (beside me as I write) - I long since ditched the Eee version of Xandros it came with, having run Eeebuntu (2009-2011) and since then, Arch Linux. Arch in particular was a good move - it runs surprisingly fast on the 701, as I installed a deliberately- stripped-down and lean set of software on it (Fluxbox instead of GNOME or KDE, etc.). Mind you, maxing out the RAM to 2GB didn't hurt either.

    About the only thing I'd replace if I could, is the 8GB SSD, which is constantly groaning at the seams with only a few hundred megs' "headroom". It's a very particular kind of SSD, with a 32GB unit at about £40 (if the moon is in the right quarter), and a bit of a faff to install, so one for the "copious free time and moolah" file.

    I think I'll run this little fella until it joins the Psions in Silicon Heaven...

  33. Andus McCoatover

    eeepc dead?

    You might want to tell it mine! Used it to setup my Raspberry Pi - which it did, in spite of only 800 meg. flash left.

    Had to hang 3x USB flash drives around it, plus the SD card, thing looked like a bloody hedgehog!

    Girl-on-the-beach? Finland's Sonera are running an advert. at the moment for wireless BB. at the end is a similarly dressed young maiden - on a beach - using what looks like an EEEPC.

    Still use it a couple of times a week (easypeasy linux, not xandros), even tho' my Samsung Fondleslab' is with me always. EEEPC? Still bloody useful!

    Long, long time before it's landfill (unless by accident I type "dd.........of=/dev/sda1"...)

  34. loopyloo

    When did Laptops get renamed as Notebooks, can anyone find the first usage? I'm pretty sure this was a marketing ploy to sow confusion between Netbooks and Notebooks, just like those cunning little meerkats.

    Confusion Marketing seems to have been a deliberate stratgey:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Probably when people realised some got too hot to put safely on your lap...

  35. DaddyHoggy

    HP 800CT?

    I wrote my Masters Thesis on a HP 800CT which I acquired c. 1996 - 133MHz Pentium, 16MB RAM (upgraded to 48MB), 1.4GB HD - choice of Windows 3.11 on 95 on first boot (I chose Windows 95...), 800x600 256 colour display, I still have it - it still works although battery life is now terrible and I even bought a box of ten off eBay - but they're all as bad as my own - sub-1hr performance.

    It had the most gorgeous little pop-out mouse - which I much prefer to a modern day touchpad.

    It's almost exactly the same length and width (although considerably thicker) than my Asus EeePC 1015PX which I'm actually writing this comment on - which I love very much (I wrote my novel on it, so we've been through a lot!) and I spent a long time picking out to get an acceptable feel and size of keyboard.

    For anybody who writes a lot - like me - I need a "proper" keyboard. I worry about the end of the netbook - and wonder what I will do after this netbook if this niche of computing gets killed off...

    (Tablets with tactile feedback screens? I've seen some research papers on them but I don't think there are any actual products out there yet)

    1. Volker Hett

      Re: HP 800CT?

      I had an Omnibook 300 then and from a price/performance/portability point of view my Macbook Air today is a steal :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: HP 800CT?

        Loved the Omnibook 300. I had a high school job at HP in 1996 and they let me borrow an Omnibook 300 that was just collecting dust. It was my first portable computer. Unfortunately I didn't really have a use for it (although I tried hard to invent one) and probably ultimately only used it for a few hours total.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oi !

    Where's he HandJob ? There should at least be a mention of the HandJob !

  37. Dapprman
    Thumb Up

    I still occasionally miss my old Psion 3 MX

    It was my first PDA, and my jump across from a filofax. i used it for many years, not just as an organiser, but also, through the serial cable, as a terminal. Was perfect for when I needed to go in to a machine room where there was a dodgy terminal or workstation monitor.

  38. Philip Lewis
    Thumb Up

    Psion NetBook

    I have one gathering dust on the shelf.

    I used it regularly for quite a long time though and was genuinely sad when the limited screen resolution became a web browsing issue.

    When Opera dropped development of the browser it pretty much killed the device's future.

    It even did WiFi with a buffalo PCMCIA card which was a big plus for me.

    I never replaced it, since I never found anything that met the battery life/weight capability criteria.

    I did however buy a Medion Akoya (Aka MSI Wind) Netbook which was used massively. It is still my coffee table/guest machine in Hackintosh form. It is to this day the computing device which I genuinely rate as the best value for money I ever spent.

    Perhaps I should put the Psion Netbook on eBay?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Psion NetBook

      I loved the Wind too but unfortunately bought it only a few months before Apple released the MacBook Air 11.6", so, never got much use out of it. :(

  39. Anonymous Coward

    No DratShack M100?

    No mention of the Radio Shack M100?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No DratShack M100?

      Now that was a very advanced model for the time.

  40. Anal Leakage

    The Register somehow finds one more reason to do a story mentioning Psion.

  41. Dale Vile, Freeform Dynamics


    I had an Olivetti Quaderna - travelled all over the Middle East with it on business on many occasions. In the year or so I was using it, I never saw another one out there in the wild. I did post a problem about it on a bulletin board once, though, and who should respond but (now Sir) Terry Pratchett. He wrote at least part of one of the Discworld novels on a Quaderna, I seem to remember while he was travelling in Australia (well I have a vague recollection of Oz being mentioned).

    By today's standards, these machines were really crap, but back then they were truly liberating if you spent a lot of time working while travelling. I even remember that dialling up from hotel rooms over 9600 modems was genuinely useful in a way that today seems unimaginable.

  42. mickey mouse the fith
    Thumb Up

    Any HP 320LX love?

    I had an HP 320LX running Wince 2.0 back in the day. I used to use it for browsing offline webpages previously downloaded on my desktop machine (I was way to broke to fork out on a modem card) as well as taking notes in the cut down ms word program. I recall it had pretty good c64 and speccy emulators and a wicked infrared interface that you could program to act as a telly remote control. The batterys seemed to last forever compared to modern handhelds. It also had a really nice blue backlight and a nifty docking cradle.

    I really regret selling it in the early 2000`s now, it was a great little device for the time.

    1. krakead

      Re: Any HP 320LX love?

      Get yourself another one - they pop up on ebay fairly often.

      I too sold mine, to fund the purchase of a Psion 5, which was superior in every way, especially once you'd got over the novelty of a having a baby version of Windows. At least mine went to a good home - I advertised it in Micromart and it was bought by Professor Heinz Wolff, who undoubtedly went on to do some serious boffinry with it!

      1. mickey mouse the fith

        Re: Any HP 320LX love?

        "Get yourself another one - they pop up on ebay fairly often."

        I probably will at some point.

        One thing puzzles me though, all the pictures i can find online of the HP 320LX show it having a green tinted lcd screen, im pretty sure mine had a paperwhite screen and indiglo blue backlight. I think it even boasted about the new, updated white screen on the box. I know it was the one that could be upgraded to the next version of wince via the included cd (the slightly cheaper version Dixons sold couldnt). Did I have a rarer updated unit, or is my memory just crap?

  43. PdV

    keyboard for me...

    slabs are Perfect for reading + viewing.

    For other WORK, I need a keyboard, and all sorts of connectivity (ssh!).

    Netbooks were just the ticket, and some form of "laptop" will have to remain around for those of us who try to do real stuff beyond the read/view/twat/fazebook/managermail.

    Maybe the popularity of slabs shows that most of those slab-touting trendfollowers only do "passive" tasks, if tasks they do at all...

  44. welshie

    HP Omnibook

    No mention of the HP Omnibook 600C? This was a neat little machine that could run windows, and as a pointing device had a pop-out little mouse-on-a-stick thing that sprung out of the right hand side of the machine. Interesting form factor.

  45. Herby

    Yes, the Tandy (Radio Shack) M100

    When it was introduced back in the day (1983 the Wikipedia article says) it was pretty advanced for its day. They were gobbled up by many a journalist simply because they had built in word processing software that allowed field journalists to write stories and (with the built in 300 baud modem) send them back to the home office.

    In those days you didn't need much more than that to be a field journalist, so that is what you used. Sure you could write small basic programs, but it was the connectivity, built-ins, and portability that made it work.

    Trivia: This was the last project that Bill Gates himself actually worked on.

    Personal trivia: I still have one of these controlling my pool motors at my house. Amazing what you can do with a little bit of software.

  46. John Moppett

    Another one missing

    Is the IBM TP240. I have one of these and it is as portable as an EeePC, but could do everything that any W98 PC could!

  47. John Fielder

    Acer ZG5

    Still got an ald Acer One, 120gb hard drive version. Only just been replaced by a Surface. Quite liked Ubuntu on it, currently running 13.04 happily.

  48. Adam Hammerton


    Quote - "EPOC, of course, would go on to become the foundation for Symbian OS, now owned by Nokia and relegated to its feature phones."

    Due to the very best efforts of Nokia (read Elop), Symbian is very nearly, although thankfully not quite, dead. When the time for the final obituary does actually come can El Reg please make sure that someone who actually knows what Symbian is/was (hell, maybe even someone who actually uses it) is involved.

    For hopefully the last time :- SYMBIAN IS A SMARTPHONE OS! and is NOT used in Nokia feature phones. S60/Anna/Belle (Symbian) ARE NOT S40 (featurephone OS)!!!

    1. Dave 15

      Re: Sigh!

      Sent that info as a correction, a polite note back apparently the cock up is fixed

      The BBC are not immune either their stupid cretinous reporters also had the latest nokia s40 as a symbian device and needed correcting.

      Would love to know the not quite dead bit... no development at nokia due to stupid elop but is there something going on outside? I had a request for some info on symbian - the sort of technical stuff that implied someone was going to use it again... I'd be happy, very happy to see that. Compared to these hellish variants on the desk top windows and desk top unix os's symbian was really epoc32 which was properly designed ground up for smallish embedded devices (not so small as nucleus etc but at least not desk top sizes and powers).

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll be so sad when my netbook dies

    Samsung N140 here, nice matte screen, keyboard perfectly type-able, reasonable battery life, got it running Linux Mint for carefree web use without concern about catching anything, my perfect companion for evening use in the armchair or a little reading at night in bed to tire myself out before dozing off. Yeah, and that :)

    I'm not a passive web user. I type a lot. A tablet just wouldn't cut it for me. A laptop would be annoyingly large compared to this.

    When this darling Samsung dies I'll be really annoyed if I can't find something similar to replace it. I can't believe there isn't enough demand for at last a couple of manufacturers to still compete in some residual market.

  50. Irongut

    Apple eMate 300

    Wow what an ugly piece of crap that was.

  51. Dazed and Bemused

    NEC MobilePro

    Having owned various flavours of Jornada (820, 680, 720, 728) and an EEE 701 all of which I liked, I still think my favourite mini-notebook type device was the NEC Mobilepro 900C - it managed the to marry the "quite small" and "usable keyboard" aspects with more success than anything else I've used.

  52. Jim Wilkinson

    Maybe not netbooks but...

    Just dug under the office desk and found - Psion 5, Psion Revo, Sony Clie NX70 & Clie TH55. All used as 'netbooks' to keep information and make notes at meetings, diaries etc.

    Best of these IMO was the Psion Revo (Plus) with a usable keyboard, clear screen a menu bar for the apps and a neat clamshell design. Pity it didn't catch on. But it was a good tool at the time and way better than lugging round a large and ugly laptop running MS-DOS.

  53. Bruce Woolman

    My EEEPC 900 lives in the kitchen

    There, hooked to a pair of ten-dollar speakers, it serves as a wi fi appliance to stream radio. It is also the only computer I take on holiday these days. This because it has solid state storage. I can, and do, sometimes bung it into the checked baggage to simplify security checks. I upgraded the ssd, which was dead slow, and it dual boots XP and Linux mint. Both run with enough speed for a normal experience. Not true with the original ssd hardware, which was almost unusable. I tried traveling a few times with the old Samsung Slab, but found it to be inadequate. So the cheap little Asus joined me again. It fits into an important niche a tablet or a smartphone just does not fill comfortably. IMHO there will always be a market for a relatively small, inexpensive sturdy notebook. The history outlined in this well-researched article demonstrated that fairly clearly.

  54. Trygve Henriksen

    Got 9(8) out of 10...

    Don't have the second on the list, and my Psion MC is the 400, not the 200.

    My Toshiba has a dud screen or driver(stripy display), but otherwise they all work.

    My Eee701 runs eCs, barely.

    The MC400 is a good all-day word processor.

    (Nothing comes close to the battery life of a MC400 loaded with 8 x AA alkalines)

    Great keyboard, too.

    What about the Olivetti Quaderno PT-XT-20 ?

  55. solaries
    Thumb Down


    This brings up the problem of e-readers how long before plan obsolence will put Kindle and Nook out of business. The book as we know it has been around since the 4 th century ACE how lomg will the e-book last. That is the question.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Netbooks

      e-books were around long before ifad, kindle & nook. See:

      I've been contributing on & off since the early 1970s.

  56. lapogus

    eh, where's the Casio Fiva?

  57. Christian Berger

    Why doesn't that work any more?

    I mean seriously, back then they could knock together devices which ran PC "operating systems" which weren't even designed to save power, but still ran for weeks on 2 AA batteries. And all of that was done with, by today's standards, trivial technology, which is far less energy efficient than anything we have today.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    regarding the Apple eMate, I seem to remember reading somewhere that Apple was working closely with or funded UK inventor of the windup powered radio, Trevor Baylis, with a view to using this technology in low powered devices. Not fruitful I guess as we are yet to see such a device. Perhaps the iWatch.

  59. Anonymous Coward

    Wot? No PC110?

    Nice to see the Libretto mentioned, but no IBM PC110?

    Similarly, this was a Japanese only item. With the footprint of a floppy disk it was a handheld but ran DOS and Windows as it was a proper x86 PC.

    They go for crazy money on eBay these days.

    My old Toshiba T2130CT sits between netbook and notebook size.

  60. Dr_N


    I've said it before:

    With all the technologically advancements since the Psion 5 & 7/netBook came out it's amazing that no one produces a product that even comes near them. Where's my keyboarded 3G enabled touch device with fully integrated apps that doesn't need to be booted or charged up every 2-3 days?

    PS You've missed the Epson PX-8 from the list. A cracking 1st gen "netbook" .

  61. stu 4

    Good article - and an excuse to post my PDA cabinet again

    clue - at least 3 in this list are in there.


  62. BigTim

    LG Phenom

    Missed out the LG phenom and the cadre of Windows CE machines!

    I had a phenom in 1998/99 and amazed colleagues that I could connect to the net over IrDA to my nokia 6510 and download content at a blistering 14,400 baud (I think data was a flat £5/month unlimited at the time).

    The touchscreen and built in word, excel etc were actaully pretty useful for working on short docs on the train and the outlook client was.. OK. IE was fine for basic sites.

    It now lives in my son's toy box and though it doesn't switch on anymore the casing has survided many a fall down the stairs.

  63. Hardwareguy

    TRS-80 ?.

    What about the old Tandy TRS-80 from 1980. I had one of these in secondary school.

    1. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: TRS-80 ?.

      The TRS-80 Model 100 wasn't a netbook, it was a Laptop/noteBook precursor.

  64. David Gillett

    A couple of years ago, at a conference, I was sitting next to a friend -- she was using her iPad2 and I my netbook. Someone walked up and asked us how the two devices compared. "There's no comparison." said my friend. I added "You're right -- I've got a real keyboard abd an SD slot." She showed me the third-party Bluetooth keyboard tucked under her tablet. I only learned later that her device cost twice as much as mine; I later spent a pittance to upgrade its hard drive to 750GB, on which I dual-boot between Win7 and Ubuntu Linux.

    In 2010, I flew to San Diego for a three-week session at UCSD. I wanted to take at least two full-size laptops, but by taking only my netbook, I was able to fly comfortably with limited luggage. I was not at all certain that it would be adequate, but in fact that netbook met all of my computing needs for those three weeks, except that I had to ask a friend to copy a driver CD-ROM to a USB flash drive for me. I was surprised and impressed....

  65. Dick Kennedy

    Quaderno - good for two weeks

    I was at the Quaderno launch in Italy and got given one of the machines. Loved it and used it extensively until, inevitably (given that it was Italian), it broke. That was a fun two weeks. I didn't know a single journo from that launch whose Quaderno didn't break. In some cases, they found the machines broken by the time they got back from Italy. The screen had a very thin glass covering that would crack if there was a light breeze, or an 'R' in the month. Otherwise a fine attempt.

  66. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Microsoft destroyed the netbook

    "I think that the problem with Netbooks is that the vociferous naysayers were exposed to the early tiny screen Linux models and found them wanting and have slagged off Netbooks ever since. If they'd tried the much better later models they'd have a different opinion. But then again, the anti-MS brigade never got over the fact that most people wanted to ditch Linux and have something that could run Windows."

    What *I* didn't get over was that Microsoft destroyed the netbook. A netbook that has a faster CPU, more RAM, more hard disk sapce, and a large screen, plus cash sent straight to Microsoft, so it's like double the cost? That is not a netbook any longer, that is a low end notebook computer, which had already been on the market for years and were uninteresting despite them referring to these still as netbooks. Then, these still proved barely adequate to run WIndows 7 due to it's bloat (while they ran Linux fine.) So they put even MORE CPU power, more RAM, more hard disk space, and yet more cost. Yeah.

    I'm waiting to see the actual specs on these supposed $200 Android thingies -- if I can get Android the hell off and normal Linux the hell on, these should work a treat (although I'd prefer an ARM model to an Atom one I think.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microsoft destroyed the netbook

      >>I'm waiting to see the actual specs on these supposed $200 Android thingies -- if I can get Android the hell off and normal Linux the hell on, these should work a treat (although I'd prefer an ARM model to an Atom one I think.)

      And the technology hipster post of the year goes to....

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